The St. Paul police crime lab shut down their drug testing operations in July after considerable questions were raised about the lab’s practices and the integrity of the evidence they processed. Since then, calls for the lab to shut down completely have grown as attention turns to other parts of the lab where workers are still handling criminal evidence.
According to Minnesota Public Radio, many defense attorneys and others within the legal system are questioning why officials aren’t giving a closer look to the fingerprint lab and other evidence-processing labs that remain open. After all, they are within the same building, and under the same administration.
“I just can’t imagine that there aren’t serious, serious questions about what’s going on in the other parts of the crime laboratory,” said Pam King, assistant state public defender. “I don’t understand why they have that laboratory open at all.”
The drug lab was shut down when workers there admitted they didn’t follow any written protocol, and officials found several evidence handling problems—including a “cocaine clogged” drug analyzer and evidence stored in unventilated areas and hallways.
As a result of the drug lab shutting its doors, numerous drug convictions have been called into question in Dakota, Washington, and Ramsey counties.
In May, before the drug lab was shut and before the problems came to light, one public defender tried to alert a judge to issues in the fingerprint lab, where she said, “they do not have standard operating procedures or formal protocols in place to govern the process of fingerprint analysis.” The judge denied her request to rule on the integrity of fingerprint evidence.
Prosecutors, however, say that there is nothing wrong with the other parts of the lab. They say there is ample evidence that the lab is running according to protocol and with solid practices in place. What is this evidence? They won’t say. They instead prefer to wait for that evidence to come out in pending court cases.
In the meantime, the drug lab fiasco resulted in the lab director being replaced and two out of state companies being invited in for an independent review. The results of that review are still unknown. In the meantime, prosecutors say, there is no reason to question other lab functions. Apparently, they would rather wait until after all pending cases are processed through the system and deal with the (what seem like obvious) problems after they officially come to light.
“One of the things that we count on in Minnesota is that the system does things the right way,” said Bradford Colbert, a professor and part-time public defender. “And from all I call tell, the St. Paul crime lab has not been doing things the right way, and that calls into question how the system of justice works, which could not be a bigger deal.”
Crime lab procedures, sloppy work and outright malfeasance are a national trend right now. The public should be very concerned.
When you are arrested for a crime, you want to know that the evidence in your case is handled properly. When it isn’t, it could be grounds for a dismissal or an appeal later in the process. Ideally, however, you have someone on your side that can identify such problems before you are convicted.
If you are facing drug charges or something more serious, we may be able to help. Contact our offices today to discuss your legal options.